Monday, February 28, 2011

Marching On

The month of February is now complete, as far as scheduled games, and the T-birds now enter March and their final nine games of the regular season. The big question, of course, is whether their will be playoff games to follow. We may not know the answer for another three weeks.

One thing we do know is that the T-birds are playing much better hockey lately. They are competing in most games, as they did the first half of the season. They have won 3 of their last 4 at home and are 4-3-0-0 in their last seven, including two wins over Spokane and one heartbreaking loss to Portland. Those are the top two teams in the Western Conference. That's good because Seattle will play those two teams a combined three more times (2x Portland and 1 vs. Spokane) in their final 8 games. In fact, in all but two of the T-birds last nine games they will be facing a team that, as of the end of February, has a .500 or better record.

Also, more good news as the T-birds special teams have come back to life, highlighted by a two power play goal effort Sunday in the 5-1 win over Everett. More importantly the 'Birds have allowed only two power play goals against in the last five games and in most of those games they were up against one of the league's top five power play units.

Speaking of coming to life; Connor Sanvido has quietly picked up 3 pts (1g, 2a) in his last 4 games. Meanwhile, after a four goal outing Sunday against the Silvertips, Marcel Noebels has put himself within striking distance of a 30 goal season. He now has 25, only three behind team leader Burke Gallimore. Noebels is also just four points shy of a 50 point rookie season.

The T-birds still have a mountain to climb to make it to the postseason, and they will need help. But they've entered the month of March with meaningful games to play. They are still the one team in the Western Conference that has yet to put together a significant winning streak. Have they saved their best for last?

Here is the updated pace-to-the-playoffs standings. Entering the final three weeks of the regular season only two teams (Portland and Spokane) have secured a playoff berth. So six spots are still up for grabs. The number in parenthesis is the points earned, on average, each game. The number after that is games remaining.

1. Portland is on pace for 101 pts (1.40) 10
2. Kelowna is on pace for 84.8 pts (1.18) 10
3. Spokane is on pace for 98.3 pts (1.37) 9
4. Tri-City is on pace for 92.1 pts (1.28) 11
5. Vancouver is on pace for 82.5 pts (1.15) 10
6. Everett is on pace for 72 pts (1.00) 9
7. Prince George is on pace for 69.8 pts (0.97) 8
8. Kamloops is on pace for 69.8 pts (0.97) 8
9. Chilliwack is on pace for 67.28 pts (0.934) 11
10. Seattle is on pace for 62.9 pts (0.87) 9

Portland remains in the driver's seat for the conference's top seed. Seattle certainly helped the Winterhawks cause with two recent wins over Spokane. Kelowna currently has the edge over Vancouver for the top spot in the B.C. Division and the automatic #2 seed in the first round.

Prince George and Kamloops are in a virtual dead heat for the 7th playoff spot. Those teams end the season with a home and home series against each other.

Here are the remaining schedules for the bottom five teams in the conference, currently separated by just eight points in the standings, as they battle for the final three playoff spots.

Everett: 2 at home, (2x Portland). 7 on the road (2x Tri-City, 1x Seattle, 1x Spokane, 1x Portland, 1x Vancouver and 1x Chilliwack).

Prince George: 4 at home (2x Spokane, 1x Red Deer and 1x Kamloops). 4 on the road (1x Seattle, 1x Kamloops, 1x Vancouver and 1x Tri-City).

Kamloops: 5 at home (2x Kelowna 1x Lethbridge, 1x Tri-City 1x Prince George). 3 on the road (1 each @ Chilliwack, Kelowna and Prince George).

Chilliwack: 6 at home (1x Lethbridge, 1x Kamloops, 1x Portland, 1x Vancouver, 1x Kelowna and 1x Everett). 5 on the road (1x Seattle, 1x Kelowna, 1x Vancouver, 1x Spokane and 1x Tri-City).

Seattle: 6 at home (1x Vancouver, 1x Everett, 1x Chilliwack, 1x Prince George, 1x Portland and 1x Tri-City). 3 on the road (1x Portland, 1x Kelowna and 1x Spokane).

Of those teams, The T-birds and Chilliwack have the most home games remaining (6), Everett the fewest (2). Kamloops, has only 8 games left but half are against teams with sub .500 records. By contrast the T-birds have only 2 of their final 9 games left against teams with sub .500 records.

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